Saturday night was Star Wars night at Comerica Park. It turned out to be Pitcher's Duel night as well. Ervin Santana out-pitched Doug Fister, giving the Kansas City Royals a 1-0 victory over the Detroit Tigers. Shutout for the tenth time in 2013, the loss drops the Tigers' lead in the Central to five games, their Magic Number holding steady at ten.
The game ended on a play at the plate. Prince Fielder was thrown out at home trying to score all the way from first on Omar Infante's double.
Santana was brilliant for the Royals, giving up just five hits, shutting out the Tigers over 6 2/3 innings. As usual, the Royals' bullpen was dominant. Will Smith, Luke Hochevar and Greg Holland kept the Tigers off the scoreboard over the final 2 1/3 innings. Holland did collect his 43rd save, though he needed to be bailed out by his defense.
Fister pitched more than well enough to win most games, holding the Royals to one run and eight hits over 7 2/3 innings. Jose Alvarez and Al Alburquerque shut the door on the Royals, retiring the final four batters they faced. But it wasn't enough to earn the win, thanks to that pesky thing called run support.
The game's lone run crossed the plate on Eric Hosmer's first inning RBI triple, the Royals' pitching making the one score hold up. There was little Tigers' offense to speak of. Just seven hits total, two off the bat of Victor Martinez.
As for not pinch running Fielder, I find it silly keeping him in the game because of what "might happen." There was no "night happen", because Fielder wasn't lifted for a pinch runner. But Jim Leyland will remain steadfast, he won't remove Prince Fielder for a pinch runner. If that's the case, then you don't send Fielder either.
In the end, I shouldn't be surprised the game ended how it did. Both in painful fashion and as a one run game. It's the Royals, who have had the Tigers' number.
Top of one, the Royals took an early 1-0 lead, but the inning could have been far, far worse. Why? The Tigers caught three breaks.
Facing Doug Fister, Alex Gordon led off with a single to right. Break number one was Emilio Bonifacio losing what should have been a two base hit off the tip of Prince Fielder's glove (which replays confirmed), umpires ruling it foul. Instead, with Fielder smiling like the cat who ate the canary, Bonifacio would strike out.
Eric Hosmer followed up with an absolute bomb to deep right center, tripling high off the scoreboard, Gordon scoring to make 1-zip Royals. But you could say that was also the second break of the inning. If Hosmer pulls the ball by a few feet, or hits the ball somewhere other than Death Valley, it's a home run instead of a triple. Let alone the fact Bonifacio should had been on base as well.
Eric Hosmer still trying to figure out how he could hit a change-up 430 feet and not have it be a HR. It's called deep RC at Comerica Park.— Lynn G. Henning (@Lynn_Henning) September 15, 2013
The Tigers caught their third break of the first when the Royals had the "leave on contact " play called for Hosmer. Verlander Killer Billy Butler grounded to Miguel Cabrera, meaning Hosmer was dead to rights at the plate when he fired to Alex Avila. Salvador Perez flied out to center, ending a one run inning which could have been three or four.
Bottom of two, the Tigers had their first base hit. Victor Martinez led off with a single up the middle. Trying to stay out of the double play, the Tigers sent Martinez. It worked, sorta. Andy Dirks hit a line drive off Ervin Santana, who was able to gather himself and throw out Dirks. The Tigers would strand Martinez in scoring position, Omar Infante flying out, Avila lining to Jarrod Dyson to end the threat.
Top of three, Tigers' pitching picked off their second base runner of the series. Bonifacio worked a two out walk, and was itching to run. Just as Justin Verlander on Firday night. Fister kept throwing to first until he picked Bonifacio off. A pissed off Bonifacio thought he beat the pick off attempt and spiked his helmet in protest. First base umpire James Hoye didn't take kindly to being shown up, instantaneously ejecting the Royals' second baseman.
No arguments from the Royals. Throw your helmet, you're going to get tossed.
There was also no argument Santana was on his game. His breaking ball diving away from Tigers' bat, Santana had held the Tigers to a pair of singles through four innings. Fister had settled in after his scary first inning, having allowed just the one run on three hits.
The pitcher's duel was on. As was another tight, close game between the Royals and Tigers.
Two outs in the fifth, Fister had been cruising. Three Royals later, he was in a bases loaded jam. Dyson beat out a bunt, Alcides Escobar's sinking liner falliing in front of a lunging Torii Hunter. Fister added to his troubles by walking Gordon on four pitches.
A visit from your local friendly pitching coach (Jeff Jones) and Chris Getz (who replaced the boneheaded Bonifacio) ended the threat. Getz sent a can of corn to center, stranding three Royals.
There was no hint of a threat on the Tigers' side of things. Santana was rolling, and even better for the Royals, efficient. After a 1-2-3 sixth, Santana's pitch count was a stellar 61. Factor in the Royals' excellent bullpen, it was beginning to look as if one run was all they would need.
For a second consecutive inning, Fister found himself in trouble. Top of seven and two down, Perez lined a single to center. Infante was unable to hold on to Mike Moustakas' flair in shallow right. Fister pitched out of the jam when Lorenzo Cain took a huge two strike swing, whiffing while swinging for the fences.
Santana gave up only his third hit of the night when Jose Iglesias bunted for a base hit to lead off the bottom of the seventh. A fielder's choice and line out later, Jackson was on first with two out when Cabrera made a bid. But his fly ball to deep left died on the warning track, where Gordon hauled it in, ending the inning.
The crowd at Comerica, and the media in the press box, were all duped by Miggy's monster shot that died at the warning track. Ahh! Oh.— James Schmehl (@jamesschmehl) September 15, 2013
That ... had a loud sound, but was about four feet shy of a go-ahead HR for Miguel Cabrera. If he hits them that deep, they usually go out— Matthew B. Mowery (@matthewbmowery) September 15, 2013
Even though Santana's pitch count was a mere 68 entering the bottom of the seventh, the Royals' lock down bullpen started stirring. They began warming up in earnest when Martinez and Dirks reached on back-to-back one out singles. Both runners were able to advance into scoring position on Infante's chopper to short.
Avila due to the plate and the lead run on second, Royals' skipper Ned Yost pulled Santana, calling on lefty Will Smith. Jim Leyland countered by calling Avila back to the bench, and pinch hitting with rookie Nick Castellanos.
Give the strategy battle to Yost. Castellanos flew out to shallow center, stranding two runners in scoring position. Considering Avila has an .873 OPS in the second half and 1.051 in September, and was replaced a very raw rookie, I'm not surprised by the outcome.
Top of eight, the Royals were bound and determined to add an insurance run. Fister helped them along by walking the lead off man, Getz. Wanting to move the runner, Hosmer laid down a perfect bunt. So perfect, he beat it out for a single.
Two on and no one out, Butler hit a sinking liner to right. Hunter charged, made the catch and came up throwing as Getz tagged up.
It wasn't even close.
Hunter had pulled off the oh-so-common 9-5 double play.
But Fister was having command issues, extending the inning by walking Perez on four pitches. Having dodged one bullet and not wanting to see the inning spin out of control, Jim Leyland pulled his starter after 7 2/3 innings and 106 pitches.
Instead of Drew Smyly or Phil Coke taking on the left-handed Moustakas, Leyland went with rookie Jose Alvarez. While the fan base freaked out, Alvarez ended the inning on a fly ball to center.
Set up man Luke Hochevar pitched the eighth for the Royals, finding himself in a bit of two out trouble. Hunter bounced a double to left, giving Cabrera a shot at tying the game. First pitch swinging, he bounced meekly to second, ending the threat.
In September he has been Capoot— Bless You Boys (@blessyouboys) September 15, 2013
Al Alburquerque took over in the top of the ninth, very effective in a 1-2-3 inning.
Down to their final three outs, the Tigers would face closer Greg Holland. Holland had been lights out, but did recently blow his first save since May on September 5. So ... hope?
Holland gave the Tigers a little when he walked Fielder on five pitches. In a surprise move, there was no pinch runner for Fielder. Martinez took a huge cut, but popped up to short right for the first out. Holland made Dirks look foolish, striking him out on three pitches.
It was up to Infante. He came through with a liner which rolled to the left field fence, but the unfathomable decision to not pinch run for Fielder bit Leyland right in the ass.
Tom Brookens sent Fielder, which I have no issue with. That he wasn't sending Hernan Perez or Danny Worth is the issue. The Royals pulled off the relay, Gordon to Escobar to Perez. Escobars' throw wasn't very good, on the short hop and off line, but Perez was still able to slap on the tag.
Game over. Your final score is Royals 1, Tigers 0.
MAY ALL YOUR PITCHING PROSPECTS BE TRADED AWAY FOR JEFF FRANCOUER ROYALS— Tokarz (@tokarzontigers) September 15, 2013
As well as the Tigers had pitched, the Royals had been just a little better. That was the difference in the game. Santana was better than Fister, end of story.
As for not pinch running Fielder? I'll answer that question with a question. You have an extended bench in September, why not use it? I'm still not going along with the not pinch running in case the game goes into extra innings. Not pinch running for the lumbering Fielder ensured the game didn't go into extras.
I like how Jim Leyland runs the team, and that the biggest part of the job. But his on-field decision making is often baffling. Such as saying you will pinch run for Martinez, but not Fielder.
The Tigers fall to 85-63 (.574), their lead now at five games over the 80-68 (.541) Indians with 14 games left to play. In regard to the fight for first round home field (The Red Sox are pulling away from the Tigers and Athletics for the best record), the Athletics are two games up on the Tigers. In fact, at five games the Tigers now have the smallest lead of any team in the AL. The Red Sox lead the East by nine, the A's are up 5 1/2 in the West. It really doesn't mean much other than the remaining teams are in the fight for their Wild Card lives. That's a battle which will go to the final game of the season, to MLB's delight.
The season series finale with the Royals comes to an end with right-hander Jeremy Guthrie (14-10, 4.11 ERA) hoping to stop Max Scherzer from reaching the 20 win plateau (19-3, 3.01 ERA).
Expect Guthrie to relatively deep into the game. In his 30 starts, he's pitched less than six innings just three times. This season Guthrie has made three starts against the Tigers, winning two. But he's allowed 11 runs in 19 innings, a 5.12 ERA.
Since reaching 19-1, Scherzer has pitched 16 innings in his last three starts, losing two, allowing 11 earned runs for a 6.19 ERA. Scherzer is coming off his shortest start of 2013, pulled after four innings and five runs, four earned, in a loss to the White Sox. In three starts against the Royals this season, Scherzer is 3-0, but with a 4.05 ERA.
Sunday's first pitch is set for 1:08 PM. At approximately 4 PM or so, the Tigers will be done with the Royals until 2014. Finally.
WIN PROBABILITY GRAPH:
What the human element takes away, it can also sometimes give you. Top of one, Emilio Bonifacio hit a line drive which was ruled foul in spite of Price Fielder tipping the ball with his glove. Replays confirmed Fielder tipped the liner. The Royals mildly protested, but to no avail. When replay goes into effect next year, Bonifacio has a double and the Royals are off to a big inning. In 2013, the call saves the Tigers a run.
Another reason why everyone loves Miguel Cabrera. He can't run a lick due to his injuries, but threatening to steal anyway. All Eric Hosmer could do was laugh.
Miggy acting like he's going to steal. He is my favorite.— Melissa Heyboer (@MelissaHeyboer) September 14, 2013
The Indians are playing the White Sox on "Halfway to St. Patrick's Day" in Chicago. A promotion which resulted in these bright green atrocities. :
Not to be outdone, it was Star Wars night at Comerica. Was Darth Vader looking for Luke ... Putkonen?
The reaction to Jose Alvarez entering the game in a high leverage situation in the eighth raised the hackles of many.
Why Alvarez with 2 men on, down 1- 0 in the 8th?— Patrick OKennedy (@Tigerdog_1) September 15, 2013
He got the out, but Alvarez?— MattinToledo (@MattinToledo) September 15, 2013
ALVAREZ?— Brian Sakowski (@B_Sakowski_PG) September 15, 2013
Honestly, "WTF?" was my reaction to Alvarez as well. But it worked.
If there was a game which showed the need for Jhonny Peralta's bat coming off the bench, this was it. The Tigers have absolutely no offense coming off the bench. When you're pinch hitting with Don Kelly, any argument over not keeping Peralta on the roster in October is over.
Doug Fister: The old bromide fits - he deserved better.
Victor Martinez: The only Tiger with two hits.
Torii Hunter: Singled, but gets a roar for his marvelous throw to cut down Chris Getz in the eighth. Every once in a while, we see glimpses of the former Gold Glover in right.
Jim Leyland: For the want of a pinch runner...
The Tigers' offense: Shutout for a tenth time.
The Royals: I hate them.
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The Tigers topped the Royals 6-3, with several players making significant contributions to the victory. Prince Fielder stood out with a home run and single, driving in three to pushed him over the 100 RBI mark for the sixth time. Fielder was rewarded for his efforts with a win in the PotG poll, taking 66% of the vote.